Fire station bacteria scare fears

By Ted JeoryBOSSES and unions have downplayed fears sparked by the discovery of potentially deadly bacteria at a number of fire stations.Essex Assistant Chief Fire Officer Roger Walsh insisted the public had nothing to worry about after legionella, which can cause the potentially fatal Legionnaires' disease, was found in buildings in Clacton, Witham and Great Baddow.

By Ted Jeory

BOSSES and unions have downplayed fears sparked by the discovery of potentially deadly bacteria at a number of fire stations.

Essex Assistant Chief Fire Officer Roger Walsh insisted the public had nothing to worry about after legionella, which can cause the potentially fatal Legionnaires' disease, was found in buildings in Clacton, Witham and Great Baddow.

The bacterium, which thrives in hot water systems and stagnant water, was discovered in showerheads at a fire station in south Essex last month, prompting managers to order full-scale testing across the county.


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These revealed fire stations in Great Baddow and Clacton, as well as the service's training centre in Witham, also contained the germ.

Firefighters have been forced to wash in temporary shower units while the stations' water systems were purged by chlorination. It is expected the temporary arrangements will be in place for at least another week.

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But while people can catch Legionnaires' disease by inhaling small water droplets - often through air conditioning systems - the risk to the public is said to be small and, so far, no-one has been affected.

Mr Walsh said: "The public has nothing to worry about. We are carrying out full tests at our properties and only four of 65 buildings have been affected.

"No-one has become unwell over it. It's slightly unpleasant to have to shower in temporary facilities, but operations have not been hit. The fitness of our firefighters is critical."

Peter Matthews, health and safety spokesman for the Fire Brigades Union in the eastern region, also moved to reassure the public.

"It's an inconvenience and it's good that the management have undertaken these tests and measures," he added

Legionnaires' disease - a type of pneumonia - is a rare, but serious disease that mainly affects older men. It is caught by inhaling small droplets of water containing the legionella bacterium.

Most people who are exposed to legionella do not become ill, but symptoms are flu-like including high temperature, fevers, muscle pains and occasionally diarrhoea and signs of mental confusion.

ted.jeory@eadt.co.uk

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